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Bill W.’s Letters To Carl Jung And Alcoholics Anonymous

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As the 21st century marches on, medical advances in the field of addiction treatment continue to progress. Hundreds of prescription medications are being doled out at an alarming rate to those trying to get clean and sober. These “maintenance” drugs, like naltrexone (Revia) and buprenorphine (Suboxone) act like a substitute for the former alcoholic or drug addict. The problem with opiate drug treatment is that these drugs are not just used simply for immediate withdrawal symptoms (which are the proper and effective means of alleviating painful and discomforting withdrawal symptoms). Many doctors and addiction treatment centers are displacing the well-established 12-step holistic approach to lifelong sobriety and recovery with more substances. The main vehicle for the 12-step program has been Alcoholics Anonymous, established in 1935, as well as other subsequent “anonymous” organizations (e.g. Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, etc.).

Roots Of AA

A paradigm shift is occurring between AA’s 12-step philosophy and pharmaceutical therapy in the world of addiction treatment. Integration between the two has been somewhat amiable in the last few decades, but prescription-based treatments are gaining ground on the 12-step methodologies. The roots of Alcoholics Anonymous are interestingly intertwined with one of the most innovative minds of 20th century psychology. Dr. Carl Jung (1875-1961) was a Swiss psychiatrist known for his early collaborative work with Sigmund Freud and for propagating the dichotomy of introvert and extrovert personalities, along with promoting inner experiences for spiritual awakening. Most intriguing for us is that Dr. Carl Jung and Bill Wilson enjoyed a brief correspondence that helped to shape the social-spiritual infrastructure that has helped millions of addicts and alcoholics get sober and live healthily in recovery.

On January 23, 1961, Bill Wilson sent a letter to Dr. Jung, thanking him for the impact Jung had made on an alcoholic who was one of the first members of Alcoholics Anonymous. A certain Rowland H. was an alcoholic patient of Jung’s, who basically told him his alcoholism was medically incurable apart from a vital spiritual experience. Jung had recommended to him the Oxford Group. The Oxford Group had been practicing a self-improvement formula: self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others.

Rowland H. later would introduce Edwin T. (Ebby) in this group, with whom he shared the conversations he had had with Jung. These men were actually staying sober. Stay with me now. Ebby was the man who visited his friend Bill Wilson in the hospital after another life-threatening alcoholic binge. Wilson’s doctor had, like Jung, recognized that there need to be a spiritual component, a transcendental means by which an alcoholic would have the obsession to drink lifted and be given a daily reprieve. After Ebby’s visit, Wilson had a spiritual awakening, which immediately was married with the Oxford Group’s philosophy; the seed for Alcoholics Anonymous was planted.

It Works If You Work It

Since these early years, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people from all walks of life achieve sobriety. The philosophical nuances may be over our heads a bit, but they are the important ideological building blocks of the 12-step program. After almost 80 years, AA is still standing strong and helping others achieve sobriety. Advances in treatment today have given many addicts and alcoholics the opportunity to build a foundation so that they have the support, strength, and courage to continue on in their recovery so that they may live life clean and sober long term.


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